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RED SOX 2, INDIANS 0

Martinez, Sox rock steady

CLEVELAND -- Pedro was Pedro, quintessentially brilliant on the mound, quixotically silent off it.

Manny was Manny, a difference-making slugger between the white lines, a mum superstar beyond them.

And B.K. was B.K., the human adventure of a closer, less interested in publicly expressing himself after a successful outing than a dreadful one.

So it was that the baseball firm of Martinez, Ramirez, and Kim all but issued a collective "no comment" after the three esquires combined to help lift the Red Sox out of the morass of a humiliating 13-4 defeat the night before by stinging the Indians, 2-0, before 27,655 at the Jake. The victory staked the Sox to a 2 1/2-game lead in the wild-card race over the Mariners (12-0 losers to the A's) as Grady Little's lads winged home to begin their final seven games of the regular season.

No comment? No problem after the Sox sandwiched their second shutout of the weekend against the Tribe around the Saturday night massacre. Martinez, Mike Timlin, and Kim did the honors on the mound, while Ramirez provided the only run the Sox needed when he knocked in Todd Walker with a fourth-inning double. After Ramirez advanced to third on a throwing error, he scored an insurance run on Kevin Millar's ground out.

"We did a good job of bouncing back," catcher Jason Varitek said. "And it started with the pitching, just what we said we need it to start with."

Martinez wasted few of his precious bullets as he blanked the Indians on four hits and a pair of walks over seven innings, helping the Sox improve to 13-6 in September on the way to posting their best monthly ERA of the season. By the time Timlin pitched a scoreless eighth and Kim set down the Indians in order in the ninth, the Sox improved their ERA in September to 3.41, pretty impressive considering the bullpen's lingering woes.

Pedro was predictably Pedro, picking up his fourth victory in as many starts as he improved to 14-4 with a league-best 2.25 ERA. He fanned 11 to top 200 strikeouts in a season for the seventh time and increase his league lead in Ks to 204. And he tightened his grip on the league lead in opponents' batting average (.215), among other categories.

While Timlin generally has been tough this season in the clutch, he responded splendidly with little margin for error when the Sox needed him as much as ever. Then Kim helped to settle the nerves of the team's anxious fandom by recovering smoothly from his latest lapse Friday, when he plunked two Indians in a row in the ninth and was pulled in the Sox's 2-0 victory.

Kim, who was in danger of losing his job as closer, picked up his 15th save.

"That's a welcome sight for our eyes," Little said of the relief efforts. "We need these guys to pitch good. That was a big step forward."

Hours earlier, Little chose to smile rather than squirm over his beleaguered bullpen as he jokingly suggested he was ready to employ a novel way to search for an effective reliever in the bunch.

"We can line them up and get [bullpen coach Euclides Rojas] to throw a ball," Little said. "They can race for the ball and whoever gets the ball first can get up and get loose and come on in."

He also joked that the team held two pregame chapel sessions, with one exclusively for the bullpen, presumably a longer, more prayerful gathering.

In any case, Martinez was the savior-in-chief. He toyed with the Tribe until they waged their only serious threat in the seventh. With one out, he walked Ben Broussard and surrendered a single to Victor Martinez to put runners at first and second. A batter later, Martinez thought he fanned pinch hitter Josh Bard on a 1-2 curveball for the final out, only for plate ump Bruce Dreckman to rule it a ball.

Martinez walked Bard, loading the bases for former Sox infielder Angel Santos. At that, Martinez gave the Cleveland partisans hope by firing two straight balls to Santos. But then the Sox ace clamped down, uncorking three straight fastballs, of which Santos fouled off the first two and fanned on the third to end the inning.

The last two pitches were 95 miles per hour, the only pitches Martinez fired faster than 93 in the game.

"He had something left in his tank to get the last out," Varitek said. "That's a good sign."

Timlin's success with a razor-thin lead also was a positive sign. He attributed his performance -- and the victory -- to the Sox recognizing what they can and cannot control.

"We're at a can-do stage now," he said. "What we can do is control what we do out on the field. What we can't do is try to control somebody else on the scoreboard."

In other words, the Mariners. As the Sox turned homeward for their final regular-season series in the Fens, they knew the wild card was within their reach.

"We feel great," Millar said. "We control our own fate. I'd rather have it be this way than the other way around. If we keep winning games, good things will happen."

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